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Archive for June, 2015

At the end of a week when we got to watch on national television a Black congregation celebrating God’s grace even while mourning the murders of nine of their members, a week in which our Black President led the congregation — led all of America! — in singing “Amazing Grace,” I have just noticed these words of Bonhoeffer. They were written while he was in prison and were part of a homily intended for the baptism of the newborn son of Eberhard and Renate Bethge. The baby was named Dietrich. (He grew up to be a professional cellist with an outstanding musical career in England.)

Bonhoeffer expressed his hope that God’s people would emerge from the awful War with a renewed trust in the Lord. “Then, not in embittered and barren pride, but consciously yielding to divine judgment, we shall prove ourselves worthy to survive by identifying ourselves generously and selflessly with the whole community and the suffering of our fellow human beings.”

These words echo what he had written just a few years earlier in which he said that we have “learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed and reviled, in short from the perspective of the suffering.”

Some watched the funeral service in a spirit of judgment and a sense of superiority. After all, those people were “just Blacks.” But most (I hope) watched the maturity of faith and graciousness of those whose not-so-distant ancestors were held as slaves in a brutal and heartless “economic system” bolstered by the White churches. Those who were not grateful for America’s progress — our Black President blessed the congregation! — and who sat in judgment against those “other” people know nothing of God’s grace. And that means they know nothing of God.

Bonhoeffer was right: We must identify with the suffering of others. To whatever extent we are able, we all need to carry within ourselves some sense of the weight borne by those whose families were enslaved and who are reminded daily of how much they are resented by hard-hearted, immature folk in America.

It was a privilege to share (if only by television) in that worship service. It was America at its finest.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a prisoner himself and always a man of prayer, wrote a series of prayers for fellow prisoners. Most of them are labeled “Morning Prayers.”

The first morning prayer is:

God, I call to you early in the morning,/ help me pray and collect my thoughts/ I cannot do so alone./ In me it is dark, but with you there is light./ I am lonely, but you do not abandon me./ I am faint-hearted, but from you comes my help./ I am restless, but with you is peace,/ In me is bitterness, but with you is patience./ I do not understand your ways, but you know the right way for me.

Reading that prayer reminds me of a time when my family and I visited friends in Hawaii. He worked for Dole Pineapple company and was in charge of keeping the pineapple plants properly watered. While there was always plenty of rain in the rugged hills that form the spine of Oahu, the company sometimes needed to provide extra water for the plains where the pineapples grew. To do that, they built and maintained an elaborate system of tunnels in the mountains to gather and channel rainwater. Our friend had to walk through those tunnels now and then to make sure there were no obstructions. We gladly accepted his offer to lead us on one such walk!

He lead the way, with my wife and children following in single file, and I was the caboose. He had the only flashlight, so I could literally see nothing except his light on the walls of the cave, about 25 feet in front of me. (That would have been okay except that the ceiling of the cave varied from a height of 5′ 8” to about 6′ I am five feet none inches. I was digging bits and pieces of cave ceiling out of my skull for the next few days!)

Dietrich walked through his prison experience not as one who had the light but as one who followed and trust the light-bearer. there were some bruises along the way for him, yet his faith in the light-bearer never faltered. He began every day affirming his faith and re-entrusting himself to his Lord.

Prison or not, that is the only way to walk through the tunnels of life. Don’t you agree?

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Once prisoner Bonhoeffer was granted relative freedom to write letters from Tegel prison, his letters to his friend Eberhard Bethge started becoming theologically oriented. In a November 1943 letter he includes this interesting line:

“I hope you don’t think that I will emerge from here as a man of the ‘inner line.” That phrase was used sometimes by members of the Hitler-resisting¬† Confessing Church to indicate a view of the Christian life as being strictly “spiritual” and inward, concerned only with one’s inner experience of the presence of Jesus Christ.

Bonhoeffer had long fought against such thinking. If we follow the path Jesus walks, he reasoned, we must follow it to the Cross, through the Tomb, and into the world. God does not call us out of the world, making Christianity a form of escapism. Rather, we walk with Jesus into the world with all its dangers, threats, and deadly enmity.

That’s where Jesus walked and it cost him his life. That’s where Dietrich Bonhoeffer walked and it cost him his life. Where do you walk?

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